Neighborhood Fixture: Naval Reserve Center played a role in Zoot Suit Riots

In between a strip of parking lots next to Dodger Stadium and a hodge podge of small homes and apartment buildings, the former Naval & Marine Corps Reserve Center, an Art-Deco style building with an imposing set of steps in front and a soaring, barrel-shaped roof in the back, seems out of place on this stretch of Stadium Way near Echo Park. The building, a state historic landmark, was completed in 1941 as the nation was about to enter World War II. Under that soaring roof, an estimated 100,000 sailors were inducted into the military and received training at the center, located on what is now Stadium Way, according to the Living New Deal Website.

One of the most notable – and some would say bleakest – moments in the center’s history took place only two years after it opened when new recruits armed with clubs emerged from the compound and swept across the city, beating up young Mexican-American youths dressed in Zoot Suits.  The Zoot Suit Riots,  also called The Sailor Riots,  took place 70 years ago this month and have been described as  a white-on-brown race riot that motivated a new generation of Mexican Americans to become active in civil rights and political activism.

The  Daily News and its sister papers published a story this weekend about the 70th anniversary of the Zoot Suit riots that included this account from a then 15-year-old Gene Cabral, who lived  near the naval center in Chavez Ravine:

Cabral’s house was less than two blocks from the Naval Armory where most of the mobs of soldiers began their attacks.

The assaults stunned him and his friends.

“I guess all I thought is, ‘What the hell? If I go out there, someone is going to beat me?’ ” he said. “It didn’t make sense to me. I just stayed in my house with my young mind trying to figure out what we did wrong.”

The former naval reserve center now serves as a training and administrative center for the Los Angeles Fire Department. It is named in honor of Frank Hotchkin, a 24-year-old firefighter who was killed while fighting a blaze in the building in 1980.

Interior of training center with canons.

Neighborhood Fixture  provides a bit of history and background about buildings and sites that catch our attention.

One comment

  1. As a child my father took me to pick up my mother who worked at the Naval Reserve Center every evening, I would sit on the steps as a service man would walk the length of the steps, I should say March? I knew the seriousness of the zoot suit boys as my dad was very apprehensive on driving a 35 Plymouth into the Ravine.

    A lot of injured boys were there and my mother saw to it that they would get a home cooked meal, Somethimes we wold have 7 boys for dinner and my dad and mom depended on our neighbors rationing stamps. Our house was tiny but the sailors didn’t care. They were happy to be with us and my folks heard from a lot of them long after the war was ended. God Bless the Armory!!!!!

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